Highly Recommended ***** It is difficult to believe, but Steppenwolf Theatre is celebrating 40 years of bringing fabulous productions to its stage. 40 years ago, they began with John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” as adapted by Company Member, Frank Galati ( my high school bud from 1959/1960) and now they are doing his new adaptation of Steinbeck’s “East of Eden”, making its World Premiere. What a magnificent production! Directed by Terry Kinney, this sparkling re-telling of this story is one that I am sure will see “Jeff Recommended” and more than likely will win some awards for this season. What started as a diary with notes to his two sons, became an amazing story dealing with the choices one makes in life. Steinbeck was known as a fighter, making the public aware of the plight of the lower classes, in particular the farmer and those who worked the fields. If one thinks about his “Of Mice and Men”, one sees the lives of the itinerants who worked the fields.
In this story, we meet a wealthy gentleman , Adam Trask ( a solid performance by Tim Hopper) who with his beloved, and pregnant wife, Cathy ( Kate Arrington handles this role to perfection) who live on a beautiful farm in The Salinas Valley in California. As the play opens we meet Trask and local businessman Samuel Hamilton ( the always reliable Francis Guinan) who is checking out the additional land that Trask wants to farm. The set (Walter Spangler) is cleverly done with building parts wheeling on and off the massive stage and furniture coming up and down through the stage floor. There is a huge tree that always remains there for us to see, which I see as a symbol for the land and its ability to grow . The lighting (David Weiner), sound and original music (Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen) along with the costumes (Mara Blumenfeld) are the tech parts of this production that truly make it a delight to watch.
But, to be honest, it is the cast of actors that have been assembled and the slick direction that make this the shortest three hours (two intermissions) of theater. It moves very quickly. The story is simple, and perhaps biblical. Adam has fallen in love with Cathy and has brought her home as his wife. We later learn that she was in fact a high priced madam/ prostitute. She is with child, an da sit turns out delivers two boys, twins who are nothing alike, in either looks or personalities. Hamilton, who may or may not have been a man of medicine, delivers the babies and after this is done, Cathy prepares to leave and return to her former life, leaving Adam with the boys. Adam with his faithful man-servant Lee ( deftly handled by Stephen Park) raise the two boys, Caleb (Aaron Himelstein) and Aron (Casey Thomas Brown). These are both powerful actors who bring these two characters to life. Aron become the favorite of Adam as he reminds him of the lost love of his life, Cathy. The boys, by the way are unaware of their mother still being alive and what she does. Part of the smartness of the story is their coming of age and what they find along the way. I will not ruin the story for you, but will let you know that there are some amazing bits and pieces that bring the ending to an emotional high.
Other characters in the play are handled by Dan Waller, Brittany Uomoleale (as Abra, the love of young Aron’s life), Elizabeth Laidlaw in several roles and Alan Wilder, as well playing several roles. These actors prove the old adage that there are no small roles, as they each bring a bit more to the story-telling. This is a tightly woven story as adapted by Galati and leave it to Kinney to make the magic happen on the Steppenwolf stage. The story deals with family, sibling rivalry, economic crisis, the coming of a war during the 18 years of time covered. Trust me, if you have never seen a Steinbeck play, you will want to see more of his work. Steppenwolf has grown during these 40 years to be one of the best of the best in bringing both new works and classic to their stage- this is one of their best! I would expect that the Jeff people will have their work cut out for them in singling out the actors in this one. Hopper, Brown and Himelstein are amazing and Park as Lee, might easily walk away with the supporting award.
Tuesdays 7:30 p.m.
Wednesdays 7:30 p.m.
added 2 p.m. starting 10/28
Thursdays 7:30 p.m. (except 11/5)
Fridays 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays 3 and 7:30 p.m.
Sundays 3 and 7:30 p.m.
NO evening on 11/1
Tickets range from $20- $89 and can be purchased at the box office, by calling 312-335-1650 or online at www.steppenwolf.org
there are even a limited amount of student seats at $15 and special performances:
American Sign Language 10/25
open captioning 10/31 and an audience description and touch tour on November 8th (starting at 1:30 prior to performance)
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “East of Eden”